If you give an עכבר a كعكة

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Deinonysus
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If you give an עכבר a كعكة

Postby Deinonysus » Fri Oct 09, 2020 3:32 pm

Most people would not start learning Modern Hebrew, get frustrated at the inconsistant spelling rules and switch to Biblical Hebrew with reconstructed medieval (Tiberian) pronunciation, and then finally decide it's easier to just learn Modern Standard Arabic first. But then again I am an admitted weirdo.

I had been planning on simply learning spoken Levantine Arabic in the car while focusing most of my time on Inuktitut. Pimsleur's premium subscription shows the written vocabulary words both in Arabic script and translated into Latin characters after you've completed an audio lesson, so of course I decided that I should learn the Arabic alphabet, which I have done over the past week thanks to the "Learn Arabic With Maha" YouTube channel. 

And then I realized, oh no! This language is really cool and I like it a lot!

I was trying to watch one of Maha's six alphabet videos a day, but yesterday I watched the last two videos in one day, and then I was up late learning to touch-type in Arabic. That was also very good practice reading typed words, since they get scrunched up and they can look different from how I learned to hand-write them. I also have done the four alphabet lessons on Duolingo.

I thought to myself, it's too bad that I'm not studying Modern Standard Arabic now. And then I realized, wait, what's stopping me?

My main justification for studying Arabic now is that the time I spend on Arabic will also work as a down payment on Hebrew. Arabic avoids my main issues with both Modern and Biblical Hebrew.

Issues with Modern Hebrew:
  • There are two many consonant mergers and silent consonants, so it's hard to remember how to write something.
  • Hebrew has five phonemic vowels and no phonemic length, but the consonantal writing system only marks the three original long vowels (a, i, and u).
  • There is an optional vowel marking system on top of that (not used in everyday life), but that was written in that medieval Tiberian dialect that had seven normal-length vowels (i, e, ɛ, a, ɔ, o, and u) and three ultra-short vowels (ə, a, and ɔ), so when you use that option you are basically using two alphabets that are incompatible with Modern Hebrew instead of just one.
  • But, in this vowel marking system you mostly ignore the consonantal vowels since that length contrast was lost in the Tiberian dialect.

Learning the Tiberian pronunciation solves many but not all of these issues, but of course since Biblical Hebrew is no longer spoken and most of the reading material is 3,000-year-old Canaanite epic prose (and even harder, poetry), it's pretty tough to immerse yourself in it.

Arabic, on the other hand, is remarkably conservative compared to Ancient Hebrew. It retains the proto-Semitic system of three short and three long vowels, and it retains 28 of the 29 proto-Semitic consonants which each have their own letters, so you write it just like you say it and you say it just like you write it. There are two small complications that cancel out a bit:
  1. Short vowels are not written in everyday writing (but since there are only three it's easier to guess than Hebrew)
  2. Some of those short vowel sounds are apparently dropped in all but the most formal speech.

And on top of that, there is a ton of Modern Standard Arabic media I can immerse myself in and it has much better resources than Biblical Hebrew.

Goals

I'm planning on spending up to a year on Arabic (unless I get distracted and switch to something else before then, which is very likely).

At the end of a year (not necessarily consecutive), I would like to reach:
  • A strong beginner level of MSA speech
  • A strong beginner level of Levantine speech
  • A good enough reading level to skim news headlines and blurbs and get the general idea
  • A good level of understanding of the grammar
  • A good base of vocabulary that will help me with other languages I am interested in

Challanges

The grammar will be tough but I love studying grammar so that shouldn't be the hard part for me.

I'm having a surprisingly easy time with the writing system so far (except that Arabic fonts are always so heckin' tiny, what's up with that?) but we'll have to see how I do once the short vowels go away.

I think my biggest problem will be that I will need to learn a ton of vocabulary, which is my least favorite part of language learning (especially in languages with grammatical gender, which is the bane of my existence). But I know that the Arabic vocabulary I learn will not only help me with cognates in Hebrew, but also other languages such as Indonesian (one of my favorite languages!) as well as Turkish, Persian, Urdu, and Swahili if I end up spending time on them someday.

Resources

Below are the resources I plan on using. I am unlikely to get to everything in one go since I have a short attention span and don't tend to stick to any one language project for more than a few months.

  • FSI Levantine Arabic Pronunciation: I'll want to finish this before I start Pimsleur. It should only take me a few weeks.
  • Duolingo: I'm already almost done with the first checkpoint. The course doesn't seem to be that long. I don't know if there's another good interactive Arabic course out there, so I might get back to Structure of Inuktitut once my "sitting down at a computer to do a language lesson" time slot is freed up.
  • Pimsleur: I'll plan on starting with Modern Standard Arabic (3 levels). Then if I'm still working on Arabic after I'm done with that, I'll switch to Eastern (3 levels) and then Egyptian (1 level). I may go back to Haitian Creole if I need a break from Arabic or as a palate cleanser between dialects.
  • Ahlan wa Sahlan: I don't always use a real textbook but I think it will be necessary for Arabic. This was the one I chose. It has a preliminary workbook, a beginner textbook, and then an intermediate textbook, with plenty of multimedia to go with it. I'm starting with the workbook.
  • Assimil L'arabe: I happen to already have a copy, but it would be competing for the "sitting down with a book before bed" time slot with Ahlan wa Sahlan. I think I will probably save Assimil for when I need a break from the textbook and want something light. If I'm feeling extremely motivated I may be able to double up and use both resources at once, but that seems unlikely.
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Re: If you give an עכבר a كعكة

Postby Ogrim » Fri Oct 09, 2020 8:37 pm

I will be following your progress in MSA with great interest. I have been struggling with this language for the best part of two (or three?) years now, and I progress really slowly, but then I have not been very consistent and I have had lot of gaps after which I have had to go back and review what I already learnt.

Deinonysus wrote:I'm having a surprisingly easy time with the writing system so far (except that Arabic fonts are always so heckin' tiny, what's up with that?) but we'll have to see how I do once the short vowels go away.

I think my biggest problem will be that I will need to learn a ton of vocabulary, which is my least favorite part of language learning (especially in languages with grammatical gender, which is the bane of my existence). But I know that the Arabic vocabulary I learn will not only help me with cognates in Hebrew, but also other languages such as Indonesian (one of my favorite languages!) as well as Turkish, Persian, Urdu, and Swahili if I end up spending time on them someday.


I also found the writing system easier than I had thought. And I have the same problem with the fonts, I don't understand why they are always so tiny, do Arabs have better eyesight than us Westerners? ;) My solutions to that has been to scan my textbooks and use them on my iPad where I can zoom in to be able to read with more ease.

I also find vocabulary to be the hardest part - like you I like grammar, but learning all those new words, many of which sound quite similar, is quite a challenge I find. For me it has also to do with the fact that you only have three vowels (or six if you count short and long vowels separately).

Gender is not so complicated in Arabic, except that in MSA there are some strange rules of concordance - but you'll find out when you get there. I don't want to discourage you. :)

And as a PS: I am also tempted by Hebrew (modern, not bibilcal), but one Semitic language at a time seems more than enough.
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Deinonysus
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Re: If you give an עכבר a كعكة

Postby Deinonysus » Sat Oct 10, 2020 1:12 pm

Ogrim wrote:I will be following your progress in MSA with great interest. I have been struggling with this language for the best part of two (or three?) years now, and I progress really slowly, but then I have not been very consistent and I have had lot of gaps after which I have had to go back and review what I already learnt.

Deinonysus wrote:I'm having a surprisingly easy time with the writing system so far (except that Arabic fonts are always so heckin' tiny, what's up with that?) but we'll have to see how I do once the short vowels go away.

I think my biggest problem will be that I will need to learn a ton of vocabulary, which is my least favorite part of language learning (especially in languages with grammatical gender, which is the bane of my existence). But I know that the Arabic vocabulary I learn will not only help me with cognates in Hebrew, but also other languages such as Indonesian (one of my favorite languages!) as well as Turkish, Persian, Urdu, and Swahili if I end up spending time on them someday.


I also found the writing system easier than I had thought. And I have the same problem with the fonts, I don't understand why they are always so tiny, do Arabs have better eyesight than us Westerners? ;) My solutions to that has been to scan my textbooks and use them on my iPad where I can zoom in to be able to read with more ease.

I also find vocabulary to be the hardest part - like you I like grammar, but learning all those new words, many of which sound quite similar, is quite a challenge I find. For me it has also to do with the fact that you only have three vowels (or six if you count short and long vowels separately).

Gender is not so complicated in Arabic, except that in MSA there are some strange rules of concordance - but you'll find out when you get there. I don't want to discourage you. :)

And as a PS: I am also tempted by Hebrew (modern, not bibilcal), but one Semitic language at a time seems more than enough.

Well good luck with Arabic and I hope you do better controlling your Wanderlust than I do with mine!

I complain about grammatical gender but really Hebrew isn't that bad. Most feminine nouns end ה (ah with the h silent in Modern, aw in Tiberian ) or ת (t in modern, th in Tiberian). There are some unmarked feminine words, there are some masculine words with feminine endings, and there are some words with the wrong gendered plural ending (the plural of father is אבות and the plural of the feminine word for city is עירים), but overall it's more commonly marked than in French or German.

Another thing I've noticed is that while in Hebrew a feminine noun ending in ה ends in ת in the construct state, Arabic feminine nouns seem to have the same pronunciation distinction but use the letter ة for both sounds and you need to determine from context which pronunciation to use. Is that correct?
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Re: If you give an עכבר a كعكة

Postby Doitsujin » Sat Oct 10, 2020 2:33 pm

Deinonysus wrote:Another thing I've noticed is that while in Hebrew a feminine noun ending in ה ends in ת in the construct state, Arabic feminine nouns seem to have the same pronunciation distinction but use the letter ة for both sounds and you need to determine from context which pronunciation to use. Is that correct?

In spoken Arabic, the letter ة (Tāʾ marbūṭa) is usually pronounced as a[h], unless it's the first word of an Iḍāfah or followed by a possessive suffix. When ة is combined with a possessive suffix, it's actually written as a T (ت).

For example:

مدينة باريس [madīnatu Bārīs] = the city of Paris
مدينتها [madīnatuhā] = her city
مدينة جميلة [madīna(tun) jamīla(tun)] = [a] beautiful city

In the last example, the endings could be theoretically be pronounced, but they're usually not spoken.
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Re: If you give an עכבר a كعكة

Postby Deinonysus » Sat Oct 10, 2020 6:23 pm

Doitsujin wrote:
Deinonysus wrote:Another thing I've noticed is that while in Hebrew a feminine noun ending in ה ends in ת in the construct state, Arabic feminine nouns seem to have the same pronunciation distinction but use the letter ة for both sounds and you need to determine from context which pronunciation to use. Is that correct?

In spoken Arabic, the letter ة (Tāʾ marbūṭa) is usually pronounced as a[h], unless it's the first word of an Iḍāfah or followed by a possessive suffix. When ة is combined with a possessive suffix, it's actually written as a T (ت).

For example:

مدينة باريس [madīnatu Bārīs] = the city of Paris
مدينتها [madīnatuhā] = her city
مدينة جميلة [madīna(tun) jamīla(tun)] = [a] beautiful city

In the last example, the endings could be theoretically be pronounced, but they're usually not spoken.

Cool, thanks for the explanation! Looks like it's as I thought and Arabic works the same as Hebrew except it only uses one letter for the two different sounds. Compare:

  • עוגה (ugá) - cake
  • עוגת גבינה (ugát gviná) - cheesecake (literally "cake-of cheese")
  • עוגתי (ugatí) - my cake. But in Modern Hebrew they wouldn't usually inflect the noun to show possession, they would probably say העוגה שלי (ha'ugá shelí) - literally "the-cake of-me".

In Modern Hebrew the letter ה makes a /h/ sound at the beginning of a syllable but it's silent at the end. In Biblical Hebrew it was also usually silent at the end of a syllable, but it could be pronounced sometimes. When it's pronounced at the end of a syllable it gets a dot.
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Re: If you give an עכבר a كعكة

Postby Doitsujin » Sat Oct 10, 2020 9:35 pm

Deinonysus wrote:But in Modern Hebrew they wouldn't usually inflect the noun to show possession, they would probably say העוגה שלי (ha'ugá shelí) - literally "the-cake of-me".[/list]

In MSA, personal suffixes are commonly used, but you can also combine the preposition ل [li] with a personal suffix to indicate ownership. (ل is pronounced la before most personal suffixes.)

For example:

هذا بيتها [hādha baytu] = This is her house.
هذا البيت لها [hādha l-bayt[u] la] = This house belongs to her.

(There are several other Arabic prepositions that can be used to express possession.)
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Re: If you give an עכבר a كعكة

Postby ilmari » Sun Oct 11, 2020 1:35 am

the plural of the feminine word for city is עירים


Actually, it is עיר – ערים 'ir-'arim. And the word is indeed feminine.
עִיר
[עִיר-, עִירוֹ; עָרִים עָרֵי-, עָרֵיכֶם; גם עֲיָרִים גם עֲיָרוֹת]

It is a beautiful old word that you find in Ugaritic, Canaanite, and even Sumerian (eri; uru).
Last edited by ilmari on Sun Oct 11, 2020 1:50 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: If you give an עכבר a كعكة

Postby Deinonysus » Sun Oct 11, 2020 1:40 am

ilmari wrote:
the plural of the feminine word for city is עירים)


Actually, it is עיר – ערים 'ir-'arim. And the word is indeed feminine.

עִיר
[עִיר-, עִירוֹ; עָרִים עָרֵי-, עָרֵיכֶם; גם עֲיָרִים גם עֲיָרוֹת]

Thanks for the correction, that's what I get for abandoning my Hebrew Anki deck!
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Re: If you give an עכבר a كعكة

Postby Deinonysus » Sun Oct 11, 2020 6:18 pm

Arabic is going great, as expected for the honeymoon period.

I put the vocabulary for the first two chapters of the Alan wa Sahlan workbook into an Anki deck and I've already reviewed most of it at least once. When I was working on Biblical Hebrew I tried to always learn the vocabulary from my textbook at least a chapter ahead so I'll try doing that again here.

Duolingo is also going well. I've gilded all the skills before the first checkpoint and I've started on the second. I've only been working on Arabic for five days and I've already finished more than 10% of the course!

I also subscribed to a ton of Arabic subreddits. So far I can only make out the occasional word here or there, but of course I will be able to understand more and more as I go along. It's inspiring and very motivating to see how much access this language will give me to a huge culture in so many countries.

I also finished the first lesson of Assimil last night. It starts out slow (with only a two-word sentence in fact!) but I'm sure it will pick up quickly. As usual I'm not going to bother trying to memorize the vocabulary.
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Re: If you give an עכבר a كعكة

Postby Neurotip » Sun Oct 11, 2020 9:20 pm

Deinonysus wrote:I had been planning on simply learning spoken Levantine Arabic in the car while focusing most of my time on Inuktitut.

:lol:

Deinonysus wrote:And then I realized, oh no! This language is really cool and I like it a lot!

Exactly the same happened to me earlier this year. I had no idea how much fun learning Arabic script would be and now I'm so hooked that I may have to take up calligraphy solely in order to be able to write Arabic as beautifully as it deserves.

I also entirely agree about Arabic being printed extremely small. Why is that?? And do Roman-script texts look like large-print children's books to native Arabic readers?

Best of luck with the Arabic learning. I'll be following with interest.
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